In my last post, I talked about why conventional sales strategies that were considered “tried and true” two decades ago are no longer working in today’s environment; they’re more about the seller than the buyer. Unfortunately, many sales reps still cling to the old ways, despite the fact they are losing business to sales reps with inferior products. What they don’t understand is that the sales reps who are beating them have an approach to selling that customers love: Customer Aligned Selling.
Customer Aligned Sales reps begin every sales call with the goal of creating value during every interaction with the prospect or customer. They understand that the new sales formula is “value = trust.” They know that if their focus is on adding value, the prospect will trust them. That trust leads to true and loyal relationships, which lead to repeat business.
How the Customer Aligned sales rep creates value
Last time, we used a fictional sales rep named Barbara to illustrate what happens when you approach sales with a “solution selling” method. This time, let’s use another fictitious sales rep named Jim to show how Customer Aligned Selling works.
Jim is aware that cold calling is dead. Knowing that business people want to know who he is and why he’s calling before the initial introduction, Jim uses LinkedIn to find people in his network who can give him a referral or introduce him to his prospect. He never wastes a buyer’s time with an unsolicited call. Once Jim has the appointment, he uses the internet to learn everything he can about the company, the industry, and the person he is calling on.
During the meeting, Jim does not start off by talking about his product or services. Instead, he uncovers his prospect’s needs, problems, and goals by engaging them in a discussion about their specific situation. Once he discovers an issue, he digs deeper until he gets to the root cause; he does not assume he already knows what the root cause is. He asks four to six questions related to an issue; questions like:
“When you solve that problem, what does that do for you and the company?”
“When that problem is solved, who is most positively affected?”
“How does solving this problem affect annual goals and even three-year goals?”
“How does this affect you personally, making your job more enjoyable or your team more effective?”
Jim is seeking to understand the buyer’s personal motives and corporate directions (sometimes called the “prime buying motive”) because he knows it is what will drive the intellectual and emotional decision to buy.
Throughout the sales process, Jim always speaks the language of the person he’s in front of. This is one of his key skills. He knows that if he gets too technical with upper level executives, he will get delegated down to a lower-level manager who probably will not have decision-making authority. If his prospect is a CFO, Jim talks about the cost of capital, industry vs. company rate of return, or margins. If it is a plant manager, Jim may talk about uptime or maintenance issues and how they relate to serving the customer. Jim knows how to identify what is important to his prospect and speak in those terms.
Once he has uncovered all the prospect’s buying criteria, Jim discusses his offerings in terms of outcomes. He shares the outcomes his company’s products or services have helped deliver with other customers. He then asks the prospect, based upon similar usage, if they expect to see the same outcome; he is leading the buyer to the discovery that his offering can meet their needs. He knows that he does not have a solution until the buyer tells him so! He offers to connect his prospect with a client who had similar issues and can offer insight on how they solved their problems (using Jim’s solution, of course).
After the meeting, Jim sends a summary covering the topics, gaps that need addressing, potential solutions, and agreed upon next steps. After two weeks, Jim makes the promised connection with his client. Jim stays in communication with his prospect and works proactively to answer questions, obtain the right resources, and reduce the risk of moving forward with his solution.
Why Jim’s approach works when Barbara’s doesn’t
- Jim’s prospects want to talk to him because he brings value from their first meeting.
Having done his homework, Jim makes his first sales call forearmed with the knowledge he needs to make the most favorable impression possible on his prospect. He has clearly done his research and demonstrates an understanding of their company, their industry, and the challenges they might be facing. He is therefore able to have an intelligent discussion about their company’s own specific issues.
- Jim’s prospects know he is genuinely interested in them and their needs.
Because he doesn’t intersperse his customer’s comments with his own opinions on how his product will solve every need they mention, no one feels they’re being manipulated into buying. Jim doesn’t talk about his product or tell the buyer what it will do for them. By sharing how others have used the product and the outcome they’ve achieved, Jim allows the buyer to come to the conclusion that he has the solution they need on their own.
- Jim’s Sales Manager always has his back.
Jim is a Sales Manager’s dream. He requires little management, and from an internal perspective, he actually manages his manager through the sales and delivery process. Jim effectively represents his customer to his manager and directs him with regard to how he can use his management power to get things done to best serve the customer. Since Jim has his manager’s trust, his manager responds to unique requests and urgent issues in a welcome manner.
- Jim can even win sales over competitors with a superior product.
People do choose to do business with people they like and have a good rapport with. Unlike Barbara, Jim knows that the fastest way to build that rapport is by engaging the prospect with relevant questions, not by playing golf and doing lunch. Jim’s goal is empowering the customer to achieve their desired results, and it shows. The result is that the relationship other sales people work so hard to create follows as a natural outgrowth of Jim’s approach. Customers are often willing to pay more for that than for a product with more bells and whistles.
- Jim’s customers are loyal and frequently refer new business to him without being asked.
Because they know Jim puts their need to solve a problem ahead of his own need to make a sale, his customers don’t shop around every couple of years to see if there’s something comparable available at a lower price. They value Jim’s approach to their issues above cost. And because they’re so pleased with the relationship, they tell other people about him and often make introductions before Jim has a chance to ask for referrals.
With the old way of selling, Barbara’s way, the sales rep’s main objective is to create a transaction; to get the customer to buy. Though the rep would never say it outright, what the customer hears her saying is, “I need to make my quota; please buy from me.”
Jim’s approach to Customer Aligned Selling is focused on identifying whether the customer truly has a need, problem, or goal, then helping them achieve their desired outcome. As Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.” If you will start your sales process with the customer’s desired end in mind, you will add value at every step of the process, gain credibility, build trust, and earn repeat business.